Living on Melting Ice

Part of the Water: H2O = Life exhibition.

Life in the Arctic isn't so hard if you're prepared for the conditions. Polar bears, for example, have two layers of fur to help insulate them against the extreme cold. Seals, birds, and other Arctic creatures are also well-adapted to life surrounded by frozen water.

But rising temperatures and melting ice are creating new challenges for Arctic species--as well as for the people who live in the region. The Inuit and other Arctic peoples are learning ways to cope with the warming climate. By working together, people around the globe may be able to reduce climate change and protect the Arctic.

Polar bear
© AMNH / Denis Finnin

Polar Bears

Barely Enough Ice

Polar bears spend most of their time on floating sheets of sea ice hunting for their favorite food, seals. But as the Arctic has warmed in recent years, the ice is melting earlier, giving the bears less time to hunt. So some bears can't build up the fat they need to survive the rest of the year. And while polar bears can swim dozens of miles when they need to, less ice makes for longer and more tiring swims. Polar bear numbers are already dropping, and further warming could threaten the entire species.

A Warming Planet

Why is the Arctic heating up? Average temperatures are rising worldwide, and humans are partly to blame because we burn so much fossil fuel. Ice actually helps fight global warming by reflecting some of the Sun's energy back into space. So the more ice melts, the faster the land and ocean in the Arctic warm up.

Smarter Solutions:

To help protect polar bears and other Arctic species, find ways to use less electricity and gasoline, and urge your government officials-from the local to the federal level-to help fight climate change.

Life in Transition

Countless generations of indigenous people have called the frigid Arctic environment home. Like the cold weather, drastic change has become a part of life for Arctic peoples. In recent decades, more and more people have moved away from subsistence hunting and fishing, instead taking jobs in industries such as oil exploration and commercial fishing. Today one of the greatest challenges for people in the Arctic is learning to cope with warmer temperatures and melting ice.

Mushing Through Slush

Although snowmobiles and airplanes long ago replaced dog-sledding for Alaskan winter transportation, the annual 1,850-kilometer (1,150-mile) Iditarod race honors the tradition. However, organizers have had to reroute the last several races to avoid melting snow.

Animal Carvings

Hunting and fishing were once the primary means of subsistence for many thousands of indigenous Arctic people. While wage employment is much more common today, many people try to maintain the hunting and fishing traditions they inherited from their ancestors. Carvings like these, dating from the 1800s, reflect the central role that animals hold among Inuit people of North America.